It wasn’t too long ago that Phil Hughes was the next big thing in the New York Yankees organization. He had all the makings of a great pitcher: A live fastball, a knee-buckling curve, and a devastating cutter (learned from Mariano Rivera himself). Something happened along the way squandering his chances of becoming a bonafide #1 starter in the Yankees rotation. In 2009, he was a key cog in the bullpen that helped the Yankees win their 27th World Series championship. However, in 2010 when he moved back to the rotation, the Yankees caught a glimpse of Hughes’ dominance, but he completely fell off during the second half. As for 2011, we won’t speak of that abomination.
This season is in its stretch run and Hughes is still holding his own on the mound. A quick look at the numbers reveals that his second half numbers are better than his first half offerings, which isn’t saying much after a horrible start to the year. Let’s break it down by month, shall?
Coming off his hottest month in June, Hughes came back to Earth, but he did post some very good numbers. Firstly, he pitched to a 3.09 ERA (4.53 FIP), which is bittersweet all told. I’m sure any pitcher would love to have an ERA just over three, but that FIP really stands out and shows that Phil wasn’t pitching nearly as good as his ERA indicates. There is one saving grace in the matter though and that comes in the form of his descreased HR/FB ratio. The first three months of the season his HR/FB rating hovered around 14, but that dropped to 11.8 in July. Lastly, he held batters to a .218/.262/.432 slash line for the month, while going 2-2 in five starts.
The year’s hottest month saw Hughes continue his mediocre-slightly above average play by pitching to a 3.82 ERA (4.49 FIP). Again, he’s pitching worse than his ERA indicates, which is usually the case with pitchers, but Hughes has a huge discrepancy between the two. It’s definitely enough to throw up a red flag. Batters hit .273/.320/.444 off him during the month, but he lowered his HR/FB ratio down to 1.27 (Still way too many, but considering he started the season with a 2.81 ratio, he’s making huge strides). A big difference between July and August for Hughes was his BABIP, which rose almost 70 points to .296 in August. Predictably, it bumped up all of his other numbers.
One statistic I purposely left out in order to examine it more is his K/9 ratio. His strikeouts per nine innings has dropped precipitously over the last two months. In June, he had a sparkling 8.55 K/9. Those numbers didn’t hold in July (6.69) or August (5.86), and could be a contributing reason his FIP is so far apart from his ERA. If you prefer K%, he’s striking almost 10% fewer batters when comparing June (24.2%) to August (15%). For those scoring at home, fewer strikeouts means the ball is in play more, and funny (and unpredictable) things can happen when the ball is in play. Luckily, he’s walking slightly fewer batters (6.1% vs. 5.9%), so whatever damage is being done he’s at least not giving them a free pass to add more.
With the rash of injuries the Yankees are facing in both their lineup and rotation, Hughes has held somewhat steady for the Yankees in the second half. While he’s not the world beater we thought he’d be (as you can see here, here, and here), he’s been a good mid-to-back of the rotation pitcher. The ineffectiveness of Ivan Nova has really forced Hughes to step up and not falter in the second half like he did in 2010. So far, I think he’s answered that call.